It’s that time of year where prospect lists are coming out left and right. Over the past few days, respected ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law has released his minor league rankings and his top 100 prospect report (Insider subscription required). Law was not kind to the Brewers last season, ranking their farm system dead last among all Major League teams, with none Milwaukee’s prospects being deemed in the top 100. Law was more kind to the Brewers this year, but not much. The Brewers ranked 28th, according to this year’s report. Here’s what Law had to say:
"Years of bad drafts and struggles developing pitching have caught up with the Brewers, who’ve had just a few draft picks in the first five rounds — Brett Lawrie, Yovani Gallardo, and Jonathan Lucroy — pan out since…2005. Jimmy Nelson might join that group, but it’s hard to sustain a low-payroll club without a productive farm system."
Maybe I’m biased, but I think that Law’s is underrating the Brewers system. I’m not saying the Brewers systems is among the best, but I certainly believe it is better than third worst. While the Brewers did have more than a couple first round misses: (Eric Arnett, Dylan Covey, Kyle Heckathorn), they have hit on later round guys like Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, and Mike Fiers. These players, all drafted in 2009, look like they will be at least solid major league level starters who will contribute for the next several years. The Brewers have developed four pitchers currently on their major league roster who have the potential to be solidly above average starters: in addition to Fiers and Nelson, Wily Peralta could be the next Brewers ace and Tyler Thornburg looked great as a starter and reliever before an injury last season.
The Brewers have done a lot to add to their system recently, as well. Jarret Martin, Kyle Wren, Johnny Hellweg, Corey Knebel, Marcos Diplan, Luis Sardinas and Nick Delmonico are all ranked in the Brewers top 20 by MLB.com, and have all been added via trade over the past few seasons. Sardinas is a former top 100 prospect and could supplant Jean Segura at shortstop if he can hit similarly to what he produced at the MLB level last season. Knebel and Hellweg are both coming off UCL injuries and have battled control issues, but throw gas and could be lock down relievers at the back end of the bullpen.
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Guys like Knebel, Sardinas, Martin, and Hellweg all could contribute to the big league club at some capacity this season. Taylor Jungmann, Jason Rogers, and David Goforth are others at the AAA level that will likely appear in the big leagues this season, as well, giving the Brewers a solid, if not unspectacular, level of talent at the highest minor league level.
Things get a little more exciting once you get down to the lower levels of the Brewers system, particularly at AA Biloxi. There we find the prospect Keith Law ranked among his top 100: SS Orlando Arcia. Unranked by Law last year, Arcia broke out big time in 2014 in at Brevard County: hitting .289/.346/.392 in 498 at-bats, stealing 31 bases in addition to his trademark strong defense. Here’s a bit of what Law had to say about Arcia:
"He projects as a clear everyday shortstop, the kind of high-contact player who can develop into a .300 hitter in time, with 15-homer peaks once he fills out."
Considering that the average MLB shortstop hit .255 with a .310 OBP in 2014 (which we wish we could’ve seen from current starter Jean Segura), Arcia would be a perennial All-Star candidate if he can reach that ceiling. Tyrone Taylor is another exciting prospect, ranked #1 in the Brewers system by MLB.com and Baseball America. While he may not have the same defensive potential as Arcia, he was named best defensive outfielder in the Brewers system in 2013 by BA. His hit tools and speed are considered much better than Arcia’s, and Taylor should be the first in line to take over for Carlos Gomez in CF after 2016. Clint Coulter, the Brewers minor league player of the year last season, smacked 22 home runs and finished sixth among all minor league players in WAR (if that’s even a thing). He could begin the season at Brevard County, but it’s likely he could see time in Biloxi this year as he transitions to the outfield. Lefty Wei-Chung Wang will also likely see significant time in AA this season, who was very impressive in his minor league “rehab” starts and in the Arizona Fall League last season despite looking over matched in the show. His fastball sits between 92-96, and he possesses the control and off-speed pitches that could lead him to become a number two starter.
The Brewers have more high ceiling players lower in the minors, particularly after the last two drafts. Devin Williams and Kodi Medeiros have both struggled in pro ball to some extent, but both have the stuff and makeup to become top of the line starters. Jake Gatewood and Victor Roache both have prodigious power potential, but need to refine their approaches to cut down on strikeouts. Monte Harrison was considered the best athlete in the 2014 draft and was rated as a first round talent, and posted a .402 OBP in rookie ball at age 18 after the Brewers scooped him up with a supplemental pick. 16 year old Gilbert Lara and 18 year old Marcos Diplan were both high profile international signings and could become stars, but are a still a very long ways away.
About the Cincinnati Reds, who were ranked #17 overall, Law said:
"This could easily be a top-10 system in a year, given how many upside players are in the organization, from relievers working as starters to toolshed, Latin American position players. There is very little 2015 impact, however, and nearly all of their top 10 prospects have some significant risk associated with them."
When you look at the Brewers minor league system, I believe this is a more apt description for Milwaukee’s farm than the pessimistic view that Law purveyed. The Brewers have several players in AAA who, while they may not be very high upside guys, could contribute to the Major League team in 2015 or soon after. As you go down lower, you find players that have showed flashes of All-Star caliber potential that just need to keep proving themselves as they advance through the system. If guys like Arcia, Coulter, and Taylor can repeat their strong 2014 performances, this system could make a significant jump in the ranks.
Keith Law seems pretty down on the Brewers system, but I believe that he is understating what the Brewers have. I think somewhere between 15-20 would’ve been a more fair ranking, a middle of the road system that could be a top-flite system next season. 2015 will be an exciting and important year to determine how the future of the Brewers could look.